We live in a society in which healthcare represents nearly one fifth of our Gross Domestic Product. Last year, more than 300 billion dollars were spent on the diagnosis and care of patients in American hospitals and clinics, and hundreds of billions more went to fill the coffers of insurance companies. We spend more money on health care than any other nation in the world, grossly and per capita. But healthcare is not the same thing as health, and by many meaningful benchmarks, our supremely costly healthcare system has not delivered supreme health to the American people. In terms of prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, infant mortality, and longevity we are ranked near the middle or in the bottom half among industrialized nations, and have even begun to lag behind many poor, underdeveloped countries.
Perhaps the most important metric is HALE (Healthy Life Expectancy), which measures the average life expectancy of a population. In 2008, the World Health Organization ranked the United States 27th among industrialized nations on the HALE metric (25 countries make up what is often called the “First World” of industrialized nations). We are living significantly less long than people in countries with socialized medical systems (such as Spain, Italy, Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Belgium), or people in countries whose healthcare systems are far less technologically advanced than our own (such as Greece, Malta, Singapore, and Andorra). One thing these data make clear is that our costlier, technology-driven healthcare is not correlated with better health.